It is well documented that teacher recruitment and retention is a national challenge, and the problem is amplified in rural areas. Neale-Wade Academy, where I am Executive Principal, is located in such an area; specifically Fenland in Cambridgeshire                                         

There are 1400 students at Neale-Wade Academy, part of the Active Learning Trust, and staffing requirements are high. Following a recent Ofsted inspection (October 2016) we were rated as a ‘Good’ school for the first time, having been in Special Measures just three years earlier.

Two things the inspection noted were our strengths in hiring teachers from overseas and our induction process for new teachers. This forms part of the great importance we place on looking after our staff, particularly in the context of recruitment and retention issues. Underpinning our efforts to ensure our staff are supported in their roles is an active CPD programme.

When discussing employment opportunities with potential members of staff, I often find that the information around our CPD generates real interest and has led to some significant appointments and rapid progression. For example, we have one individual who has moved from classroom teacher to Progress Leader (leading a team of ten tutors) to Assistant Principal in the space of just three years.

How does it all work?

There are several strands that have enabled us to make progress in recruitment and retention:

  1. Weekly CPD

We have actively encouraged teachers to become Lead Practitioners (LPs). These LPs then undertake daily learning walks using a very simple form to record what they have seen across a large number of lessons.

Individual teachers are not identified but any common areas for development are. At the end of the week the LP team meet with the VP for Teaching, Learning, Data and Assessment (TLDA) to review what has been identified as a strength during the learning walks and areas that could be improved. They then plan suitable CPD activities to meet the area for development that has been identified. Staff are then informed at our Monday briefing that the LPs will be running a CPD session covering the need that was identified the previous week. I like this approach as it removes the pre-planned CPD that states ‘it’s week ten therefore we must be looking at targeted questioning’. It gives us a far more tailored and specific programme that meets the needs of our teachers within the context of our school.

  1. Positive relationships

The LPs foster relationships with staff and this enables them to work with individuals to improve their practice. These informal lesson observations and collaborative lessons really do help to improve teachers’ skills. I believe that our LP team is seen as non-threatening and our open door policy for all staff has helped to promote a culture of openness and collaboration.

  1. What about middle leaders?

CPD is not just for classroom teachers and we have been successful in developing our middle leaders through weekly ‘Raising Attainment’ meetings. The VP (TLDA) has worked closely with all Heads of Faculty and Heads of Subject to foster a collaborative approach to sharing best practice. These meetings are lively and use data as the basis for all discussions. They have enabled all staff to understand what the common aim is within the Academy. This is informal but it is amazing how receptive middle leaders are when they hear it from their colleagues and not from the SLT. For example, this week all middle leaders have been sharing detailed GCSE exam analysis to look at commonality and where best practice exists. Promoting this degree of honesty has been integral for true CPD to take place.

  1. Ensuring clear outcomes

All new initiatives are shared with staff and discussed beforehand. We always try to explain why we are doing things differently and how they will positively impact on student outcomes. This is probably no different to any other school but we always follow up new initiatives with very clear, high quality paperwork. For example we recently produced a colourful set of documents called ‘Classroom Strategies for High Prior Attainers’ and a similar booklet for Low Prior Attaining students. Both booklets are given to all staff and they contain clear strategies and tasks that teachers can use in their lessons. The walls of our classrooms have the Raising Attainment strategies displayed and really form a large part of our student entitlement.

  1. Succession planning

I believe that to enable a school to improve and to continue to become a very high performing school, succession planning is crucial. I try to look three to four years in advance and then expose senior and middle leaders to the type of developmental activities that enable them to move to the next stage of their career. In the six years that I have led Neale-Wade, two VPs have moved on to become Head Teachers and two VPs have moved to become Heads of School within our Trust. There have been many more middle leaders that now form the basis of the SLT at Neale-Wad and the Executive Leadership Team that I lead across the three schools that my role as Executive Principal covers.

  1. Trust-wide support

Our Trust has been delivering a programme called Leading Active Learning for the last four years and we have ensured that we always have members of staff signed up to this. The programme is led by a member of the Trust’s Central Team and it has enabled our staff to focus on a work-based learning project that is related to a key issue that we would like addressed within the Academy. The programme is open to all staff and one of our most successful cohorts consisted mainly of Learning Support Assistants. This group of people got so much from the programme and developed professionally and personally enabling them to have the confidence to go and lead training for teaching assistants at another of our Trust schools.

I think that the key elements to consider when it comes to recruitment, retention and CPD, are tailoring support for all staff, keeping training simple and relevant to the context that staff are working in, and looking for ‘stars for the future’ in your succession planning.

Finally, be open, honest and praise whenever you can. If you see someone doing something that others could benefit from, promote it. Staff will be appreciative, and appreciative staff might just stick around.

Jason Wing is Executive Principal of Neale-Wade Academy, Littleport & East Cambs Academy and Burrowmoor Primary School. He is also a National Leader of Education and sits on the steering group for the government’s ‘opportunity areas’.